Combining some of the best aspects of the BlackBerry Bold and the BlackBerry Curve, the BlackBerry Tour from Verizon Wireless is a sleek, fast smart phone with a comfortable keyboard. This device ($199 after $70 mail-in rebate) doesn't offer Wi-Fi, and it's Web browser isn't as good as the competition, but the Tour's speedy processor, sharp display, and global connectivity make it well worth the investment.
The Tour has a beautiful design that puts the old, boring Curve 8330 and the 8830 World Edition to shame. It has a chic black face, keyboard, and recessed trackball. The Tour also has a dark metal border running around its edge, and a subtle yet unique dark-blue carbon fiber-like design on the back cover. Plus, the 2.4-inch, 480 x 360-pixel display is bright and vivid, even if the high resolution often caused us to squint when viewing Web pages.
Measuring 4.4 x 2.4 x 0.6 inches and weighing 4.6 ounces, the Tour is nearly half an ounce heavier than the original Curve, but it’s still pocket-friendly. On the left side is a voice control toggle button, and on the right you’ll find a full 3.5mm headphone jack, volume controls, a camera quick-launch button, and the phone’s microUSB charging port. The top of the phone has two soft keys for locking and muting the phone, design touches pulled from the Curve 8900 and the Storm.
The backlit QWERTY keyboard features beveled keys separated by frets (like the BlackBerry Bold), but, because the Tour is narrower than the Bold, the layout is somewhat cramped. Despite that small caveat, the Tour still has a better keyboard than most smart phones on the market today.
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We typed a 45-word block of text on both the Bold and the Tour to get an idea of how fast we could type on each device. On the Bold, we completed this test in 55 seconds with 3 errors; on the Tour we typed the same snippet in 1:04 seconds with 6 errors.
The BlackBerry 4.7 OS interface is plain but intuitive, with six icons on the desktop and more inside the main menu. While phones such as the Palm Pre have introduced new operating systems with enticing card–based user interfaces that make it easy to switch between open apps, RIM hasn’t made any noticeable changes to the Tour’s operating system. It works, but it’s far from fun or exciting. On the other hand, you can multitask on the Tour, something you can’t do on the iPhone. For example, we enjoyed surfing the Web and checking e-mail while streaming music from Slacker in the background.
E-mail and Messaging
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With the first-class push e-mail experience we’ve come to expect from RIM, e-mail setup is—no surprise—simple on the Tour: Enter your e-mail address and password, and the phone does the rest. Your messages arrive in your inbox very close to real-time on the Tour, and it’s easy to search through e-mails. Plus, unlike the iPhone 3GS, which is limited to 300 messages, you can store well over a thousand messages in your inbox should you so choose. The phone also comes loaded with DataViz’s Documents To Go software, for light editing of Microsoft Office attachments.
You can install AOL Instant Messenger, Google Talk, Windows Live Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger all from the phone’s Application Center menu, or you can download them from BlackBerry App World. Like the original Curve, you’re limited to just 160-word SMS messages before you have to start a new text. The Bold, iPhone 3GS, Palm Pre, and most other phones these days, immediately start a new text and thread them together.
The browser on the Tour is very similar to what you'll find on the Bold and Storm, but in this case the high-resolution display makes text a little too small to read without zooming in. Plus, panning around pages is slower on this device than on smart phones equipped with WebKit browsers, like the iPhone 3GS, Palm Pre, and T-Mobile G1. You have to wait a bit longer for the screen to redraw.
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The good news is that the Tour offers speedy data performance. Over Verizon Wireless’ EV-DO Rev. A network, the Tour loaded m.CNN.com in 3 seconds and the full HTML New York Times home page in 25 seconds, which is a little slower than the iPhone 3GS (17 seconds), but faster than the Palm Pre (27 seconds). Too bad the Tour doesn’t support Wi-Fi like the BlackBerry Bold, iPhone 3GS, or Palm Pre. We saw good data coverage on our tests in New York City and New Jersey, but there are plenty of areas where you won’t have full 3G coverage and will want the faster browsing speeds Wi-Fi offers.
Like the BlackBerry Storm, the Tour is a world phone, which means it supports international roaming for voice and data networks. You can make phone calls on the Tour in 220 countries, or voice and data connections in 175 countries. When you travel abroad, in countries that typically use GSM networks instead of CDMA–based ones, you’ll be ready to roam with the included Vodafone SIM card. Verizon Wireless charges by the minute for roaming, and costs range from $0.69 per minute in Canada and Puerto Rico to $2.89 per minute in Indonesia for phone calls. GlobalEmail Monthly plans start at $64.99 for per month.
You can use RIM’s App World storefront to find new applications for the BlackBerry Tour. And although there were 1,336 applications available for the original Curve on Verizon Wireless as of this review, there were only 584 available on the BlackBerry Tour. For example, there were 105 entertainment apps available for the Curve, but just 47 on the Tour. RIM is constantly adding applications, so we imagine that number will increase quickly.
We downloaded the Ticketmaster application to a Curve—which already had a lot of e-mail and applications installed on it—and on the Tour, to compare the speed at which each was able to download and install the application. The Tour completed the task in 35 seconds, while the Curve was still chugging along after 2 minutes.
Just keep in mind that you can’t install applications to a microSD Card. The Tour has a skimpy 256MB of memory on which you can install apps, which is at least better than the 96MB available on the Curve, but nowhere near the storage you have with the iPhone 3GS or the Palm Pre.
Worse, App World doesn’t yet offer everything that’s available for BlackBerry devices. Pandora, for example, supports BlackBerry phones, but isn’t in the App World store. And premium apps still require a PayPal account, which is annoying. We also encountered a small bug where multiple icons for apps appeared Downloads.
The Tour has a 3.5mm headphone jack and comes with a set of plastic headphones. You can download tracks from the V Cast Music Store for $1.99 each, or load music using a $14.99 per month Rhapsody subscription. We downloaded 311’s “Jackpot” in a speedy 45 seconds, and there’s plenty of room for music on the included 4GB memory card. The speaker was sufficiently loud, but the sound distorted at full volume during the opening guitar segment of the song. Using Slacker, and compared to the Curve, we thought a Weezer track sounded fuller and a hair louder on the Tour.
Using the aforementioned App World, you can also download and install applications to beef up your multimedia experience. Slacker, for example, takes advantage of your memory card for caching music, which will allow you to listen to songs even where you don’t have data service. The Tour’s speaker sounded much fuller when we played the same station side by side with a Curve 8330.
The 3.2-MP autofocus camera on the Tour took sharp shots with decent color saturation, but it was slow to capture stills (about 2 seconds). When the camera did kick in, we were impressed that our pics didn’t come out blurry, even when subjects were moving. (The iPhone 3GS has an especially difficult time with moving subjects.) We also appreciated having an LED flash on board for shooting in low light, something the iPhone 3GS and Palm Pre lack.
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The video clips we captured with the Tour had a lot of artifacts and exhibited some blurring during playback. We couldn’t read the text on the side of a truck across the street. The frame rate(15 frames per second) was good, though, and audio came through clear.
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VZ Navigator comes preloaded for voice-guided turn-by-turn directions and live traffic alerts. The app found us in 15 seconds, and accurately calculated a route from Midtown to the Upper East Side in about 6 seconds. That’s impressive given that some phones have trouble finding us in Manhattan, where it can be hard to grab a GPS signal because of the tall buildings.
Call Quality and Battery Life
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Call quality on the Tour was excellent. We recorded two voicemails on a landline from the street in New York City on both the Curve 8330 and the Tour. Both phones were good at eliminating the background noise of cabs driving by, and most of the chatter outside came through as light noise in the background. Other callers had no complaints about the reception. When we put the phone on speakerphone our caller said we sounded good, but we noticed that her voice was watery at full volume. We were both, however, able to understand each other and hold a conversation clearly.
After nearly a full day of usage, we still had a quarter of battery life left, which is on a par with other BlackBerry devices. With moderate usage you’ll likely recharge every other day, which is very good compared to other smart phones. The Tour has a rated talk time of 5 hours and a standby time of 14 days.
The BlackBerry Tour is easily the best smart phone on Verizon Wireless, and we actually prefer it’s compact design to the beefier BlackBerry Bold. We would have liked integrated Wi-Fi, and perhaps access to V Cast TV, but overall the Tour is a winner. You get a very good keyboard, a zippy processor, excellent call quality, and strong data performance, not to mention RIM’s trademark push e-mail goodness. BlackBerry fans looking to upgrade will be happy with this device.